Pragmatically I get the purpose of curriculum, standards, et cetera. I'm not even sure I want to live in a standards-free world. I like having an idea of what is expected of me and my students during the year ahead of time. I like the idea of deciding that certain knowledge and skills are important. I also like not making up my curriculum from scratch! There are things that I teach that I wouldn't have thought of and have made me learn more about aspects of US history that I previously didn't care about.
I have this problem, though. An idealistically mandated curriculum is a form of authoritarianism. I object to authoritarianism in all aspects of life. I live in what is supposed to be a great republic!
People scratch their heads over low voter turnout in the United States, especially among the young adult crowd. I think a large part of the problem is that people don't have practice with democratic institutions outside of voting. It's not just schools, but schools are part of the problem. Schools don't teach democracy because they're undemocratic.
Consider for a moment the irony of memorizing the democratic process because you are forced to by someone you didn't elect, have no influence over, and who runs their classroom like a totalitarian dictatorship.
Mandated curriculum makes truly democratic education nearly impossible. When teachers are teaching based on a decision they had very little input into, then they're more likely to teach as authoritarian authorities. Sages on the stage, not guides on the side, as my education professors would say. Learning is messy, it leads you into tangents and no-exit alleys and all over the place if you let it. You can't, though, if you see teaching as following a set-list slavishly.
"Why do we have to learn this?" is a pretty depressing question to deal with if you're teaching something you don't think is important. After all, telling your students "because a faceless bureaucracy said I had to teach it to you" doesn't really do much for their motivation either. The answer should be something like "because it's interesting and useful" or, even better, "because you asked to!"
I don't know how you reconcile mandated curricula with democratic teaching. How do teachers provide students choice (proven to be one of the best motivators out there) when they are given none?
Next time: Why I think this is so important. Also, a possible middle way through this dichotomy.